This week I have been musing on how entrenched food habits can become. I have changed my diet and way of eating considerably in the last 7 years and at the same time as congratulating myself for having adapted to new foods and types of meals, I realised that I have not been able to shake myself of the belief that soup needs some kind of bread-like substance with it, or that eating curry for breakfast is strange. And yet…why shouldn’t one eat curry for breakfast? And why does soup need bread? In truth there is no reason apart from in my own brain!
This got me thinking about how we could all, perhaps, do with going on some kitchen adventures to open our horizons to new foods, new meals and new ways of doing things. When we can’t (or would rather not) go food shopping very often – or be sure that all the foods we would like will be in stock – being flexible could be a big advantage and may reduce the stress of trying to create our usual meals against the odds.
BEING A KITCHEN ADVENTURER
I’m sure you’ve noticed how people in other cultures eat very differently from you. Do you find travel abroad (when we used to be able to do it) stressful because you were not able to eat your familiar foods? Or did you relish the adventure? Let’s explore how we can all become more adventurous.
We don’t have to change everything at once. Maybe, the best place to start is to think about which food habits you are clinging on to that are actually causing you stress. Perhaps you don’t have the ingredients you need, or perhaps you know you should be changing your diet for health reasons but struggle to know how to do it? Now is such a good time to make positive changes for your health.
For me, it was breakfast. Before I started making my dietary changes, I would always have cereal and milk. It was too much bother to do other things or I didn’t have time, or I didn’t like the taste. I was making excuses not to change! However, one rhubarb season when we had so much in the garden, I started making stewed rhubarb thickened with ground almonds and sweetened with a little stevia. Later on, I stopped eating breakfast altogether. I could also have chosen to eat a Japanese style breakfast (miso soup, fish and rice), or the typical Israeli breakfast of cucumber, tomato, feta, shakshuka (eggs poached in tomato), hummus, tahini, pita, and olives or simply gone more continental and had cheese and ham for breakfast. Swapping from a cereal-based breakfast to one with more vegetables and protein is a great move for your health as you’re likely to feel fuller for longer and your blood sugar will not rise so high. High blood sugar adversely impacts the immune system, can add to mood swings and can damage body tissues directly.
Your first step in becoming an adventurer, then, is to think about where you would like to make changes and question how important it really is to stick to your current habits. You could ask yourself whether you have developed any habits that you did not intend to. For example, it is very easy for things that should really only be reserved for special occasions to become a daily habit. Snacks with a glass of wine before dinner, dessert or chocolate after a meal. Now is a great time to ask yourself, whether these treats are really treats for your body and health or may in fact be harmful!
An example of a useful change is to reduce the reliance on the usual starchy carbohydrates (potatoes, rice, pasta etc) as the main part of the meal and think about making some swaps – particularly now that pasta and bread are tending to be the first things to be bought up.
HERE ARE SOME USEFUL SWAPS FOR STARCHY CARBOHYDRATES:
Instead of spaghetti try courgetti – slice strips of courgette (zucchini) with a potato peeler or spiralizer and either stir fry or steam then add melted butter. A mix of courgette and carrot also works well. Finely sliced white cabbage can also be used.
Instead of potato mash or chips, try sweet potato, swede, celeriac or cauliflower mash (or a mix of these).
Instead of rice try cauliflower rice – grate cauliflower or chop in a blender then stir fry, steam or microwave, or lentils (green or brown). Quinoa is another great rice substitute. Bulgur wheat or couscous are other options, but these are both wheat-based and for many people, wheat can cause health problems, so I would be cautious about swapping rice for a wheat-based dish.
Lettuce ‘wraps’ are a good replacement for sandwiches, burgers and tortillas. Simply wrap your filling in a large lettuce leaf.
Portobello mushrooms make a great replacement for burger buns
Or you could try just omitting the starchy carbohydrates and increasing the vegetable component, which is what I usually do. Generally, for optimum health, I recommend keeping the carbohydrate component to less than a quarter of your plate (at any meal).
RUN OUT OF MILK? OR MAYBE YOU’VE BEEN THINKING TO TRY GOING DAIRY-FREE?
You can make your own plant milk quite easily, if you have some nut butter, nuts, oats or rice in stock.
• Nut butter milk: add 2 heaped tablespoons nut butter (e.g., almond, hazelnut, macadamia – not peanut though!), 2 cups water, a pinch sea salt to a blender. Whizz up until smooth
• Oat milk: add 1 cup rolled oats and 4 cups water to the blender and blend on high for 30-45 seconds. Then strain through a clean t-shirt or tea-towel.
• Rice milk: soak 3/4 cup uncooked long grain white rice in 2 cups of very hot (not boiling) water for 2 hours. Drain off the water and add the rice, a pinch salt and if desired, a pitted date, and 2 cups of cold water to a blender. Blend for about a minute and then strain through a clean t-shirt or tea towel.
• Coconut milk: soak one cup of desiccated coconut in 2 cups of boiling water for 2 hours. Blend and strain through a clean t-shirt or tea-towel.
• Coconut and rice milk: make rice milk as above, add a can of coconut milk or a cup of home-made coconut milk and enough water to bring the mixture to your desired consistency.
Although these “milks” don’t taste exactly like milk, they will do in many circumstances. Milk (and dairy generally) is another food that can cause problems for some, so a trial of reducing milk intake could be a good experiment to make.
A really obvious way of bringing more adventure into your kitchen is to experiment with new foods! If you are unable to buy all that you would like in the supermarket, now is definitely a good time to experiment. Google is your friend when it comes to discovering how to use new vegetables and ingredients.
• Use celeriac instead of celery
• Try butternut squash instead of carrot
• Leeks, spring onions, red onions, shallots can take the place of onions
• Spinach, kale, chard, bok choi – any of these cabbagy vegetables can be used interchangeably
• Red cabbage, white cabbage, celeriac can all be used in home-made coleslaw
• Minced dishes that usually contain tinned tomatoes taste just as nice made with stock instead
Above all, being a kitchen adventurer involves opening one’s mind to different options and taking a step into the unknown!
I hope my musings have helped you to think differently about food. I’d love to hear from you about what changes you have made. Also, remember to send me any questions that you’d like me to answer: maybe you’d like a recipe to use one of your new ingredients! And, of course, for more tailored nutrition and lifestyle advice, please get in touch to arrange an online consultation.
By Caroline Rees PhD, Fold Nutritionist – check out more of her blogs on her website here!